Civil War Selfies?

by Lori Eggleston. 0 Comments

People who lived during the time of the Civil War may not have had cell phones and digital cameras, but they still had photographs taken of themselves.  The most popular images were not called selfies, but carte de visites (CDVs).  These were small albumen prints which were mounted on cards measuring about 2 1/2 inches by 4 inches.  They were easy to make, inexpensive, and easy to mail.  Soldiers had CDVs taken to send back home to their families and friends, wives sent CDVs of themselves or their children, and girlfriends and fiancées sent CDVs to their sweethearts at war.


This is a nice carte de visite of Union Surgeon Elias Marsh wearing his uniform, taken about 1865.


This is a copy of a famous image titled, “The Soldier’s Children.” The original image was an ambrotype, and it was found in the hands of a dead Union soldier after the Battle of Gettysburg. People were so touched by the image of the children and the story of how the picture was found that CDV copies like this one were made and distributed. It was hoped that these images would aid in identifying the soldier and letting his family know of his fate. Through these CDVs he was finally identified as Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers, and the children were identified as Frank, Frederick, and Alice.


It appears that things haven’t changed all that much!  Today we still use photographs as a way to remember loved ones, and to help find or identify missing persons.  So, when the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area came up with an idea for creating opportunities for “Civil War selfies” at several of the area’s Civil War sites, we were glad to participate!  See more information about their program here:

We had to find a spot for our visitors to take these pictures, so we rearranged the lobby just a bit to add a mannequin of a Civil War surgeon which people could stand beside to take their selfies.  We chose a column which is near the museum’s entrance, and is also directly across from our admissions desk.  Our wonderful guest services staff members are there to assist in taking the photos if needed.


Kyle and I had to repurpose a mannequin from our old Recruiting Gallery scene, where he had been dressed as a civilian. I’ll go on record here to say that it’s not easy to undress or redress a mannequin!


Kyle and Cooper put the finishing touches on the uniform of our new surgeon, who has been dubbed, Bartholomew. You can see the metal stand at his feet which was fastened to the floor to stabilize him. I also attached his belt to the wall, to ensure that he doesn’t fall down on the job!


The final result looks pretty good – it’s a great spot to take a selfie!


Our museum’s founder, Dr. Gordon Dammann, seems to think so too!


If you get a chance to visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, please join in the fun!  Be sure to stop by and take a picture with our Surgeon Bartholomew, then post it and tag it #CivilWarSelfies.


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

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